The Latin sounds for “sh” — and similar variations, like “ch” and “ss” — became a “j” sound in Spanish.
Thus, the English sherry is near identical to the Spanish jerez!
These sh/j sounds were often spelt with a “x” in old Spanish; and sherry itself is named after the town it first came from, Xeres, which is near Cordova.
We recently discussed the relationship between dejar and relax, both from the same Latin root, laxare, from the Latin laxus. Other modern words come from these same roots, let’s see…
In Spanish, another interesting word from the same root is lejos, meaning, “far.” This underwent the same sh to j transition documented in the other post. That which is far away, after all, is what we can be relaxed about, what it’s easy to be loose about.
Some additional English words that come from this same root include:
The “sh” sound — often represented in writing as an “x” — transformed in all different ways to the “j” letter (and the accompanying mouth-clearing sound, influenced by Arabic) as late Latin turned into Spanish. See lots of examples: sherry/jerez, for example.
Here’s another: the common Spanish word, dejar, meaning, “to leave to the side” or “to put down” or to “put away” or to just “let go.”
Dejare comes from the Latin laxare, meaning, “to loosen”. From this same root, we get a few English words — which did not go through the x‑to‑j transformation Spanish did including:
Soap and the Spanish for the same, jabón, sound like they have nothing in common. But sounds can be deceiving.
Both come from the same root: the Latin sebum, meaning “grease”.
How can such different words be so related? Easy: the Latin s- sound and its variations (sh‑, ch- and sy- for example) usually became, under the arabic influence, a j- sound in Spanish but remained more intact in English.
Thus, the s‑p of soap maps almost exactly to the j‑b of jabón. The “p” and “b” are often easily interchanged as well.
Less fun is also noting that, from the same Latin root, meaning “grease” we also get seborrhea (a medical condition of having too much grease on your skin).
One of our favorite patterns of sound change between English and Spanish is the sh/j shift: under the influence of arabic, many words that had a “s” or “sh” or “sy” or “ch” sound in Latin, started to be pronounced with the throat-clearing sound and written with a “j”. See sherry/jerez and chess/ajedrez or syrup/jarabe, for example.
Another example of this pattern is the Spanish word for “juice”, jugo. It comes from the Latin succus meaning, “juice” (particularly sap, or juice from plants).
From this Latin root succus we also get the English… suck.
Yes, if it sucks — it is juicy! Literally!
We can see the mapping in the s‑c to j‑g mapping. The “c” and “g” sounds are similar and often interchanged.
Interestingly, in Spain they do not say jugo to mean “juice”; instead, they say… suco. Suco, funnily enough, also comes from the same root of succus. It is just the variation that never underwent the arabic “j” transformation.
From the same root we also get the English succulent, although we do not get the superficially similar English juice, which comes from the Latin ius, meaning, “sauce.”